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EDITORIAL: An inju$tice

Justice is a priceless commodity - except, it seems, in British Columbia. We feel that covering our court system is an important part of our mandate.

Justice is a priceless commodity - except, it seems, in British Columbia.

We feel that covering our court system is an important part of our mandate. Reporting on crime is only half the story - you also need to know how those accused of crimes are brought to justice.

That's why, when the provincial government closed the Squamish courthouse in 2002 in the name of fiscal efficiency, we began running a regular court report of convictions involving Squamish cases at the North Vancouver provincial courthouse - our new "local" courthouse.

While Squamish residents - and media - were no longer able to witness justice being done without a two-hour round trip, at least significant convictions would not escape the community's notice.

This week, we learned that the Attorney General has imposed a fee of $8 per criminal file searched at provincial courthouses across B.C.

For this newspaper, which searches all Squamish criminal files that pass through the North Vancouver courthouse, that fee represents thousands of dollars a year in extra costs.

Multiply that by the more than 100 community newspapers in B.C. - the primary reporters of court news - and you're talking about a fairly large-scale tax grab that makes justice that much less accessible.

Our options are few and all are unpleasant: pay the extra fee to the government for information that should be provided as a public service; attempt to place a reporter in the North Vancouver courthouse four days a week to sort through hundreds of cases for the dozen or so Squamish matters; or simply give up our regular court reporting.

That option wouldn't disturb some people - particularly those whose names have appeared in our court reports.

But we maintain that it's not enough for justice to be done - it must be public, visible, and accessible.

If the government can't justify some sort of courthouse in Squamish, the least it can do is refrain from putting more obstacles in front of the public's access to information.

We're taking action through our provincial association, the B.C. and Yukon Community Newspapers Association. But the more people that make a noise to Victoria, the better the chance something will be done.

To send your support for access to the courts, send an email to The Chief at sqchief@uniserve.com or fax your message to 604-892-8483.

Let's let Victoria know that justice needs to be done - and not for a price.